Friday, July 13, 2007

Music and Sri Lankans

The older I get, the more reflective I get. I spend time thinking about things and analysing the various aspects in my life, in my head and in those of the people who I love.

And one of the things I've come to accept, with a great deal of pleasure, is that music, with an emphasis on drum and drumming, is a thread that is about the width of an Autobahn, that runs constantly through my life.


Is music more important to the average Sri Lankan than to others?

I ask this because I've observed that I was brought up in an environment brimming with music. My musical cup overfloweth as it were, there were notes, chords and grooves dropping all over the floor. Occasionally I picked one up.

My parents have music as a thread in their lives. They're constantly listening to the stuff. If you were to pop round to their house now you would be sure to walk in, after you'd successfully explained that I had sent you, that I have a blog which they don't know about and that you're not a criminal, and you'd hear music blasting out. It could be anything from Chaka Demus and Pliers with that "Tease me" song, which they love, to the Ray Brown Trio playing its totally sublime version of Summertime with Jeff Hamilton on drums. Java, Theena if you haven't heard it please check it out, it's rather beautiful.

One of the many things I love about Sri Lanka is the street noise. You know the way you can be in the hills up country and you'll still hear that buzz, that constant blur of sound. One of my favourite places to stay in Kandy is the Hilltop Hotel. It's not a 5 star place, I'm not sure how many stars it has but it certainly has an atmosphere. I usually get a good night's sleep there, but get woken at some god awful early hour by the sound of the trains coming into the station, just opposite the hotel. Why they built that station so close to the hotel I'll never know.

From that point of waking I'll often lie in bed listening to the general hubbub of Kandy; the trains, the announcements at the station, the car horns horning incessantly, the rumble of traffic and all the various animal sounds from further up hill too. It's as if they are all combined to make some sort of symphony. Silence may be golden but this is frankincense, or maybe even Jean Paul Gaultier, it's that good.

Here in England we're used to silence. No horns, no diesel rumble, no animals and definitely no tannoy announcements in Sinhalese. Unless you're in Wembley of course. Or Tooting or Southall. We've got things you know, mad things like legislation about noise. Vehicles have to have silencers, there are laws about music at night and monkeys and certain other animals are banned in many areas.

There's hardly ever an occasion when I would prefer the option of silence to one of music. As a teenager I remember that I used to do my homework with music on, or rather not do my homework. But I could never concentrate with silence blasting out in the background. Even on days when I get a migraine, something that happens very infrequently as I've got older, I drive home heading to my bed with music on, just turned down a bit.

And I've noticed that music looks like a thread that not only runs through my life but also through many a Sri Lankan's life. There are so many Sri Lankans I know who share the attitude and feelings about sound. It's a constant soundtrack to their life too, they always have a CD on at home, a radio on in the car or a tune in their head.

What do you reckon? Is it a Sri Lankan characteristic or is it just the type of people I know?


Anonymous said...

You are right on this . I remember my parents used to put theradio early in the morning evreyday when I was young. And that was just the sound track to their morning . Now i listen to tunes on my Ipod . Old habits die hard I guess. Then there are those mini musical shows on three wheels . that's another story.

As for hilltop. Wonderful peaceful place . Quite economical as well. love the place . And don't forget the troup of monkeys who come in the morning...


Java Jones said...

Hey RD, there’s another side to this coin man – about the noise levels here, that is. Have you ever been blasted by the cacophony that comes out of temples at sunrise and sunset? Or those travelling loudspeakers selling sweep tickets and other crap? There’s a whole lot of other shit being blasted out that infringes on one’s peace of mind that I, for one, abhor. Then there’s the ‘silence’ of nature, which isn’t silence at all, but just as beautiful I’m sure as ‘Summertime’ by Ray Brown and his mates (thanks for the tip).

On the other hand, I do see what you mean about music being very much part of our lives and I’m right there with you on that one.

‘Hilltop’ huh? You mean its better than that Castle Hotel you rave about so much???

Theena said...

RD, I'll check out your recommendation.

I'll just echo Java's on the noise levels here. It is something that needs looking into because busy intersections and Pettah are just incredibly loud.

As for me, I need music. Period. I go to bed arranging a playlist on my laptop, doing it in such a way that by the time I wake up, I do so for music that is ideal in the morning. On that note: Listening to black and doom metal results in weird dreams.

SLinNY said...

I think i have different perspective.
Liked music, from the time I got turned on by Deep Purple's fireball to the time I went and had a look at MIA at Summerstage in central park.
(in case you think I am a a total rock fan, I love anton Jones (with the serpina), Rose tillekaratene (have you even heard of her) and old cuban mambo/chango stuff.
However, don't walk a around with a iPod/CDplayer and even in a big city like the sound of background. In SL the sound of silence (rarely obtainable now) with the dogs barking, and birds chirping.
If its totally silent can listen to the sounds within your head (oops, didnt mean to imply I was Dahmer/Bush).. Methinks Douglas Adams had it right with the idea (cant remember the quote) that humans to suppress their telepathic abilities talk incessantly (or turn on the tv: my addition).

Parthi said...

I agree with you...but I dnt know whether its just a sri lankan phenomena or not...i need music to breathe..from the time i wake up to the time i listening to lectures even i need music...last december during my finals i found out that music helped me understand things rapidly than without..its just magical....also adding toy uor topic...i don't think any other community than the sri lankan listen to such diverse genres of music...look at us...we listen to all from sinhala hindi to madonna and celine and westlife and ricky martin we listen to all of them...we sure are a special breed!

Jules said...

There's definitely something about the soundtrack to life in Sri Lanka. I don't know about the smaller places, but living in Colombo there's a moment early morning when the world is quiet, then suddenly everyone is up and doing their morning things. The fact that you hear the same sounds every morning is soothing, like all's well in the world (even though it's not!). I miss the birdsong, the calls to prayer from the local temple/mosque and the ringing bell of the boy from the bakery that told me I should be heading out of the door by now or I'd be late for work.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

JP - My girls have had endless hours of fun watching the monkeys eat fruit they have left out for them. Frankly I find them a bit scary, both the girls and the monkeys.

Java - At the moment I still love the cacophony from the temples, but I suspect I would feel very different if I had it blasted at me every day. I think the "extras" at the Castle are very different to those at the Hilltop!

Slinny - It's funny you say that as I too have an aversion to walking around wearing an iPod, I feel a bit out of control, whereas at home or in the car there's always music on.

Parthi - Good God! - Please do something very harmful to me if you ever catch me listening to Celine Dion.

Jules - Some of those sounds you mention are the ones that "foreigners" like us miss yet locals hate so much.

Anonymous said...

While on the subject...Can anybody suggest some place where I can listen to this girl "MIA"' s music.


SLinNY said...

Seems like the visa issues to the US have
cleared up.

Do a google for MIA and you should find a few free tracks.
Otherwise most pay for download sites do seem to have her tracks.